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Updated Jan 16, 2024

Small Business Guide to Direct Mail

Direct mail remains a highly effective marketing channel. Here's why and how you should use it.

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Written By: Max FreedmanBusiness Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
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Editor Reviewed
This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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In today’s world, email inboxes are exploding with blasts and social media alerts. Just think about the dozens of promotional emails you delete each day. That’s a big reason direct mail services can work wonders for your marketing campaigns, giving your audience a tangible piece of mail instead of just another item in their inbox. Here’s what to know.

Editor’s note: Looking for the right direct mail service for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

How effective is direct mail marketing?

A 2020 MarketingCharts survey found that business direct mail, when used in tandem with other marketing channels, can boost your overall marketing return on investment (ROI). Among the survey’s respondents, 59% experienced a good ROI with the addition of direct mail marketing, and 7% described their ROI as very good. Respectively, 69% and 8% of respondents said that adding direct mail resulted in good or very good target customer response rates. 

Additionally, according to JetMail’s 2021 direct mail sector analysis, some direct mail campaigns involving 2,500 mailers resulted in a 30% response rate. That’s a sky-high engagement rate compared with most other marketing channels, equating to 750 respondents. That rate is also higher than the email marketing engagement rates from GetResponse’s 2023 email marketing benchmarks report, which found that email open and click-through rates were, respectively, 23.53% and 3.86% – notably lower than direct mail’s 30% response rate.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Direct mail marketing continues to be effective, especially at large scale and when combined with other marketing channels.

Benefits of direct mail marketing

You might see the following benefits when you try direct mail marketing:

  • Less competition: Amid the shift to digital marketing, many companies have abandoned direct mail marketing. This means you’ll face less competition from other brands when communicating with your target audience via direct mail. A thoughtfully designed, eye-catching direct mail ad can surprise and delight potential new customers.
  • Wider demographic reach: Social media marketing can’t reach all audiences. For example, older adults are known to be less active on social media. However, people of all demographics have a home and a postal address, meaning you can easily reach your various target demographics with direct mail.
  • More interactive, personal marketing: Direct mail ads often require customers to bring their mailers into a physical location for some sort of incentive, such as a discount. Their interactive nature can encourage customers to visit your business in person, giving you a stronger opportunity to build a meaningful relationship. You can drive this in-person interaction especially well if you personalize your direct mail ads, such as with your handwritten signature or the name of the recipient’s town.
  • More creative marketing: A physical item you mail can be just about anything, so direct mail marketing offers limitless opportunities to be creative. You can mail a sample of your product alongside your ad, or send your ad alongside branded practical objects, such as magnets. You could even use QR codes to direct recipients to your website, dovetailing your direct mail campaign with your digital marketing efforts. The more memorable your ads are, the more likely you are to start or continue meaningful customer relationships.

Getting started with direct mail services

If you’re interested in launching a direct mail marketing campaign, consider the following steps to make it a resounding success:

1. Choose a type of direct mail.

The most common types of direct mail are postcards, letters and catalogs. While prices vary based on the company you use for your direct mail needs, postcards tend to be the cheapest form of direct mail, after you factor in the printing costs, stamps, and time spent designing the postcards and putting together the mailing list. Oversize postcards may help your business mailers stand out from other pieces of mail. Check your local post office for mailing costs. USPS direct mail promotions may also be available. 

Another form of direct mail is a favorite to receive but the most expensive for businesses to send – packages filled with branded products. Some brands send magnets, pens, mugs and bags with their logo on it and some kind of advertising message enclosed. The messages may not survive the trash can, but the swag does, keeping your brand top of mind. 

2. Put together your mailing list. 

It’s common to send mail to your current client base or prospects who have expressed interest either by signing up for your email list or filling out a form on your website. Some companies purchase lists from list brokers, but this practice should be done with caution and a grain of salt. When you buy lists from brokers, the ROI tends to be lower, which may be because you don’t know if those contacts actually need your services or if the names and addresses are still valid. 

Targeted mailing lists always yield better results. For example, if you sell lawn services, it can be helpful to send direct mail to welcome new residents to the neighborhood. To take it a step further, you could save money by sending mail only to addresses with lawns. If you are new to direct mail, you can send a direct mail test to a few hundred people for a relatively low upfront investment.

3. Create your direct mail message.

Once you’ve determined the recipients of your direct mail, create a targeted campaign. Don’t send junk. Create a message that speaks to your prospects’ needs. To do so, you need to know who your customers are and why they need your products or services. Build buyer personas that describe your target customers and their needs and interests, and consider them when designing your direct mail campaign.

Design is also a critical aspect of a successful direct mail campaign. The fonts, colors and images used in your direct mail matter and should be carefully thought out. Ideally, they should come from your branding guidelines. When a direct mail recipient searches for your brand online or visits your location, they should be able to immediately recognize the same branding they saw on your mailer. 

Create a strong visual brand to help you leave a lasting impression on customers when they see your direct mail ads.

4. Print and send your mailing materials.

Work with a print shop that can create quality material at a competitive price. When you start a direct mail campaign, you’ll likely need hundreds of pieces of mail; you’ll want to be sure that each is high-quality and uniform so your brand comes off as professional and polished.

The best print shops will be able to walk you through different design options, mailer sizes, finishes and other features that can make your mailers stand out. And, of course, they should give you an accurate pricing estimate before you print anything so you know exactly what you’re getting for your money.

Once you have your mailers in hand, it’s time to send them to the mailing list you’ve built.

5. Follow up with your mailing list.

Marketing and sales work hand in hand, and the key to a successful direct mail campaign is a motivated and knowledgeable sales team that specializes in the art of follow-up. You may need to send a few consecutive direct mail pieces to get phone calls, or couple your mailers with email marketing campaigns.

Here are a few final recommendations that can help you win sales from direct mail campaigns:

  • Include coupons or give something away for free upfront – people love free stuff.
  • Ensure that your contact information is clear.
  • Consider timing and life stages.

Direct mail might be the solution you’ve been seeking

Direct mail marketing can be an effective way to reinforce your digital marketing campaigns and build a stronger connection with your target audience. For a relatively low cost, you can send mailers to a list of potential customers to give them a tangible connection with your brand that offers a high engagement rate. While it usually takes several touch points to turn a lead into a customer, direct mail is a helpful way to nurture prospects and keep your brand at the forefront of their minds.

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Written By: Max FreedmanBusiness Operations Insider and Senior Analyst
Max Freedman has spent nearly a decade providing entrepreneurs and business operators with actionable advice they can use to launch and grow their businesses. Max has direct experience helping run a small business, performs hands-on reviews and has real-world experience with the categories he covers, such as accounting software and digital payroll solutions, as well as leading small business lenders and employee retirement providers. Max has written hundreds of articles for Business News Daily on a range of valuable topics, including small business funding, time and attendance, marketing and human resources.
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